The best things often come in small packages — a cliché proven true by ROBOCOPP, a startup geared toward promoting campus safety through a small, compacted device. The company has engineered a “sound grenade” that releases a 120-decibel siren once unclipped to detract attackers and threats.
“It’s a really, really loud siren in a tiny, tiny key chain,” said ROBOCOPP spokesperson Jill Turner. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Sam Mansen, the founder and CEO of ROBOCOPP, said this simplicity is the main reason the product has been so successful. The company used in-depth research to find that while any layer of safety is more useful than none, not all measures are as realistic to use when threats arise.
“Pepper spray, for example, is the most common personal safety device,” Mansen said. “However, most of the time, most consumers have never used their pepper spray and nor do they want to.”
Mansen did his own research to see how comfortable those who carried around key chains with pocketknives were with using them.
“I ask them, ‘Are you prepared to stab someone?’” Mansen said. “And I’ve never gotten a yes.”
Individuals who feel threatened while walking on campuses are usually not psychologically ready to physically fight the attacker, Mansen said.
He added, “Rather, people prefer to get help or run away.”
Mansen and the developers of ROBOCOPP wanted to create a tool allowing people to do exactly that.
“We wanted to reinvent the personal alarm concept, which has been around for about 20 years, but never used because it was never appealing,” he said.
With the device, he found that the crime is no longer as attractive to the attacker because the risk of being caught is heightened by a loud alarm. This idea was adopted from bank alarms. About 68 percent of bank robbers leave empty-handed after the alarm goes off because the sound is enough of a catalyst to deter crime, Mansen said.
“What people say they love about the sound grenade is that it is all in one,” Turner said. “We thought of a solution, and they have a plan. It is as simple as carrying it.”
University students at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and Syracuse University have adopted the tool into their own programs. Additionally, the popularity has spread to more than 100 campuses all over the nation, Turner said.
Yet while the impact of ROBOCOPP has spanned across the country, Mansen has one person in mind when he thinks of who uses it.
He’d heard his sister felt unsafe traveling to classes in California, and he looked for a method that focused more on preventing an attack from happening in the first place versus other methods that gave a solution on attack defense.
While it worked for his sister, ROBOCOPP’s expansion continues to grow because of the demographic appeal — college campuses. While cities have thousands of other alarms and sounds in the downtown area, a siren among college students garners support.
Emma Troutman, a freshman in Boston University’s College of Communication, said that she thinks the success of the tool will depend on where the pin is pulled.
“If it’s in an area where people around would be alerted, it could work,” Troutman said. “However, if it were in a secluded area and the alarm eventually turned off, it might not be as effective.”
Campuses have blue light systems, campus safety officials and an overall mindset geared toward protecting oneself. Due to these features, Mansen said, there is a natural enhancement of the effectiveness of the siren.
“College students are a lot more likely to respond to other college students in trouble,” he said, “because there’s already that built in sense of community.”
A previous version of this story stated university departments endorsed ROBOCOPP rather than the university students endorsed the product. This correction is reflected in the story above.